Administration of an absolute state

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ADMINISTRATION OF AN ABSOLUTE STATE – administration of an absolute monarchy, where the monarch’s power was not limited by any other state body (Europe of the day of absolutism of the 17th and 18th centuries – classical absolutism). Absolutism is based on the idea of the full sovereignty of the monarch who can interfere in all spheres of life, on the idea of the unity and indivisibility of political power. Absolute rulers, combining legislative, executive and judiciary powers in their hands, stood at the top of the pyramid of administrative authorities. The apparatus of the a.a.s. was organised hierarchically, with higher authorities having the right to issue orders to lower bodies, and the latter were responsible for their implementation under pain of disciplinary sanctions. Of course, the ruler was the supreme commander, who was not accountable to anyone. Under these conditions the subjects did not have any rights against the authority of the a.a.s.. The most important foundations of absolute power were fixed taxes and a permanent army. An extensive administrative apparatus was necessary for their organisation. The process of creating an absolute monarchy was accompanied by the construction of a modern structure of local and central management, taking into account the needs of society. A.a.s. was supposed to provide rational order, stability, and security to the subjects. The scope of operation of the state apparatus considerably expanded, including new areas of social and economic life. A maximum concentration of power in the hands of the monarch ensued in the absolute state, restricting the influence of aristocracy and nobility, and at the same time suppressing the political aspirations of the rich bourgeoisie. The organisational structure of public administration was based on two basic principles: centralism and bureaucratism. Centralism meant the execution of the management of the state by the king with the help of a broadly developed state apparatus, which functioned in accordance with the principle of hierarchical subordination. The strict subordination of administration to the monarch meant that individual officials did not have independent powers, they only exercised power in the scope given to them by the king. The ruler had the exclusive right to make decisions. The norms of administrative law issued by the monarch were only valid for the subjects, whereas the administrative apparatus was not strictly bound by the law, because the most important criterion of its functioning was the interest of the ruler who acted in the name of divine rights for the benefit of his subjects. The administration’s preference for advisability at the expense of the legality of action led to the emergence of a phenomenon of clerical arbitrariness. The most important feature of bureaucratism is the professional nature of the administration. Performing administrative functions was the basic source of livelihood for a civil servant. Work in administration required the appropriate preparation of theoretical officials who became professionals in their profession. Individual officials specialized in dealing with a specific category of cases, and the division of cases was carried out according to the material criterion. Centralism did not serve any separateness in the state administration, it also excluded the functioning of local government. For the absolute state, the tendency to use collegiate bodies was typical, both in the central and local management. The absolute ruler was of the opinion that in this way he was building more comprehensive administrative structures, as well as more honest and impartial ones. Colleges were supposed to be safer for the ruler (one-person offices give dignitaries more chances to compete with the highest sovereign and to tear some part of his power away from him) and at the same time to guarantee continuity of conducted policy. The strenuousness, routine and slowness of collegial bodies were some kind of shield against arbitrariness of a disrespectful of the law and unpredictable despot. Collegiality, however, had weaknesses: responsibility for decisions diminished, the heaviness of collegial office operations resulted in the slowness of the functioning of the state machine and large losses of energy. The peculiarity of the absolute state was the sale of offices. From the early 17th century, the principle of inheritance and the right to sell an inherited office was in force. The salesability and inheritance of offices not only gave financial benefits to the monarchy, but also strengthened the monarch’s alliance with his officials. People who lost a fortune in the purchase of an office and thus gained prestige, nobility, income, some part of power, were interested in the successes of their ruler and the stability of the entire monarchical system. The inflow of new bourgeois cadres to the administration was conducive to its rationalization (bank accountancy, banking, statistical techniques). The absolute monarchy paid its officials very badly and clerical corruption appeared on a large scale. The characteristic principle of ministry formed in 17th century France, and it consisted in the division of administrative executive competences between independent organisational divisions known as ministries, headed by ministers in charge of a team of field officials subordinate to them. Contemporary French administration is a continuation of the principles and basic solutions from the day of absolute monarchy, which in France lasted for a very long time – from the 15th century to the Great Revolution. The final character of the institutions was shaped by Louis XIV. France did not go through the stage of enlightened absolutism. [J.G. Otto]

Literature: J. Baszkiewicz, Powszechna historia ustrojów państwowych [Universal history of state systems], Gdańsk 1998 ■ D. Janicka, Ustrój administracji w nowożytnej Europie – zarys wykładu z historii administracji [The system of administration in modern Europe – an outline of the lecture on administration history], Toruń 2010 ■ Nauka administracji [The science of administration], red. B. Kudrycka, B.G. Peters, P.J. Suwaj, Warszawa 2009.